Home cooking? But our Grandma’s grew up in the Industrial Age…


Truthfully, it was our Great Grandmothers and Great Great Grandmothers, that grew up in the Industrial Age, depending on your age. During this time, women were usually the preparers of food for the family depending on affluence. Most of our grandparents grew up in the midst of mass manufacturing of food in cans and boxes and large cattle feedlots.  Not quite the picture of lush green rolling pastoral hills dotted with healthy cows we see in TV advertisements, although smaller farmsteads managed to retain some of the older methods. Many urbanites have not had easy access to real food like their rural counterparts and increasingly became reliant on quick and easy foodstuffs. Even then, processed foods became the new normal everywhere, including rural areas. Therefore, what we have learned in our home environments about food, was the wrong way to find, prepare, and eat it. Now we have to un-do these harmful practices and re-learn or build healthy ones.

The Industrial Revolution (1740-1850) introduced less labor-intensive devices such as the seed drill, iron plow, and threshing machines for farmers. Up until the 1900s draft animals were still being used to work the fields.

20th century farming                                 (Photo used by courtesy of Library of Congress)

The word “tractor” was first used by Hart Parr Company in Iowa, 1900, however, their huge machine was very cost-prohibitive, and few could afford it. But by 1916 there were over 100 different companies building tractors. Ford and International Harvester blew up the market with their price wars driving down prices making them more affordable for traditional farmers.

Before the Industrial Revolution, men and women labored at providing enough food for their families often being limited by climate and local resources. The wealthy could import their foods, but most residents consumed a diet limited to nearby fields and forests. Prior to the 18th century, during Middle Ages, agriculture was performed by many residents (peasants) for a local landowner.

Middle Ages Farming                                  Painting by Henry H. Parker (1858-1930)

The Industrial age contributed to the demise of the feudal system as individual wealth and a middle class developed. Instead of farming the land for someone else, farmers were now working their own land, building their own houses, making their own way in the world. Farmsteads existed in small rural communities which enabled them to barter and trade with their neighbors. This type of reciprocity helped to develop strong bonds within the community as they learned to share in their agricultural successes and failures.  Nutrient dense meats and vegetation were still home grown or locally traded and prepared. Preservation included drying, salting, and fermenting. These methods encompass cooking from “scratch” and define real food prepared and consumed in a homestead/farm environment.

By the middle of the 20th century, for urban Americans, homecooked merely meant cooked at home and little resembled the art of raising, butchering, harvesting, preserving, and serving food from the farm. About this time, food manufacturing and the arrival of fast food restaurants forever changed our relationship with food. Somehow, food was no longer the means for survival and health. Instead, it had become a social event.

1961 advertisingEven today, advertising continues to drive consumerism and dupes’ people into buying non-nutritious garbage. Many Americans now eat out multiple times a week and when they do get a “homecooked meal” it is from a box full of processed, refined, and nutrient-starved items slightly resembling food. Truthfully, if we were to compare a box meal to real, living food that is vividly colored and full of rich flavor, there would be no contest. Real food may be more expensive than processed but it is packed full of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes your body craves. And you can grow it in your backyard!                                                                                                               Photo Published in Life magazine, April 14, 1961, Vol. 50 No. 15

Unfortunately, in our culture, real living food is becoming marginalized. Today there are several food movements that we can support to bring back healthier, and closer to home, food resources. Better yet, just start a garden.

I don’t know about you, but I want to invest in real foods and natural, life giving organisms that are crucial for our health. I want to retrieve controls that could threaten ecosystems and strip necessary biodiversity from our environment. What I buy, is what I vote for; I choose to put my money into natural food systems, one without chemicals, preservatives, pesticides and herbicides. I choose to grow my own grocery store, from leafy greens to juicy fruits. And what I can’t grow or raise, I choose to support my local, grass-fed meat farms.


Global Food, Health, and Society. “The Long Lasting Effects of the Industrial Revolution.” October 29, 2018.  http://web.colby.edu/st297-global18/2018/10/29/the-long-lasting-effects-of-the-industrial-revolution/

Hueston W, McLeod A. OVERVIEW OF THE GLOBAL FOOD SYSTEM: CHANGES OVER TIME/SPACE AND LESSONS FOR FUTURE FOOD SAFETY. In: Institute of Medicine (US). Improving Food Safety Through a One Health Approach: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2012. A5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK114491/

Liebhold, Peter. These tractors show 150 years of farming history. National Museum of American History. March 1, 2018. https://americanhistory.si.edu/tractor

O’Brien, P. (1977). Agriculture and the Industrial Revolution. The Economic History Review, 30(1), new series, 166-181. doi:10.2307/2595506

Sally Edelstein Collage (Feature Illustration). https://www.sallyedelsteincollage.com/content.html?page=6

Smaller, C. (2016). Bayer Tightens Control over the World’s Food Supply. International Institute for Sustainable Development: The Knowledge to Act. https://www.iisd.org/blog/bayer-tightens-control-over-world-s-food-supply


Homesteaders were not always Farmers

Historically, homesteading was quite risky. It not only required steely determination, the most successful homesteader also held an arsenal of skills that were needed for his survival.  One such man was William Campbell, the son of Scottish immigrants. He established his homestead in 1897 on the edge of the Salmon River in the mountains of Central Idaho.

Campbells Homestead close up
William Campbell’s Homestead site

A recent gold discovery at nearby Thunder Mountain brought an increase in travelers looking to strike it rich. Seeing the need to get men, supplies, and cattle across the river, he began a ferrying business which proved to be very lucrative. William Campbells FerrySuccessful homesteaders earned their living by various means and were not always farmers. Their prosperity was reliant on the needs and opportunities of the surroundings and the ability to recognize and respond to those conditions. William Campbell was able to provide a necessary service for his community while eking out a moderately comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately, his dream was cut short, lasting only about five years. He disappeared in a

Scenic River of No Return
Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

snowstorm and was never found. His name lives on in Campbell’s Ferry, a spot near the main fork of the Salmon River.



Bauer, Jennifer K. “Where wild still rules: New book on Campbell’s Ferry examines history of remote Salmon River Canyon ranch.” November 27, 2013. https://inland360.com/books/2013/11/where-wild-still-rules-new-book-on-campbells-ferry-examines-history-of-remote-salmon-river-canyon-ranch/

Scenic River of No Return Wilderness. http://www.selwaybitterroot.org/scenic-frank-church-river-of-no-return-wilderness-page

The Trust for Public Land. https://www.tpl.org/our-work/thunder-mountain#sm.00000bftx8qp7ddwvxt1s21s2tcb4

“William Campbell.” http://www.campbellsferry.org/william-campbell.html


Homesteading Past to Present

The Donation Land Act of 1850, set in place prior to the Homestead Act, focused on settling the Oregon Territory of modern-day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and a small portion of Wyoming. The Homestead Act of 1862 was signed into existence by the Lincoln Administration. It provided up to 160 acres per person over the age of 21 if they could live and work the land for 5 consecutive years. Several additional Acts were passed that provided for different kinds of environmental constraints, such as the Desert Land Act of 1877.

These courageous people were the first settlers to work the land. Some came to mine for elusive gold, but many came for the opportunity to establish farms and create homes for their families. The land varied from climate to climate, from extreme winters to blistering summers to lengthy droughts. Often, they were unprepared for what they had to work with, such as rocky, sandy, or hard-clay soil. Only half of the initial homesteaders remained after five years, indicating the harshness of the conditions.

Minnie Moss Homesteading at Meeting Lake
Minnie Moss Homesteading at Meeting Lake

Today, there is momentum for a new breed of homesteader. Not unlike our ancestors who sought a better way of life away from the industrialized urban spaces that choked the air with smoke and fetid odors, today’s homesteader looks to escape their urban confinements and burdensome laws for sweet alfalfa fields and cock-a-doodle-doos. Homesteading can mean many things. One person’s passion for herbaceous gardens and frolicking pygmy goats can diverge from another’s love of everything bovine. Creating a homestead is not dissimilar to creating a home, which you can do no matter if you reside in an urban or rural context. Plainly there are urban constraints that may limit your grander goals but homesteading is completely possible on a smaller scale. Regardless of your location, no two homesteads will choose the same journey. Each is a reflection of the people who create it, and all are beautiful in their own unique way. Off-grid or on, animals or none, urban or rural, we are a community that grows and learns together. Tell me in the comments below, in what ways do you homestead?

“Man takes root at his feet, and at best he is no more than a potted plant in his house or carriage till he has established communication with the soil by the loving and magnetic touch of his soles to it.”      -John Burroughs

National Park Service. “Homestead: History and Culture,” National Monument of America, Nebraska. Last updated April 10, 2015. https://www.nps.gov/home/learn/historyculture/index.htm